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This Is the Only Time You Should Give Your Cat a Bath, Vets Say

Cats generally hate getting wet, but there are a few instances when it's necessary.

There's a reason some vets recommend using a water spray bottle to train cats: they hate getting wet. So, naturally, the bathtub is not a place they enjoy. But is it OK to completely forego bathing your feline? The simple answer is yes; it's not something you should do regularly as you would with a dog. However, there are a few very specific instances in which it might be necessary to bathe a cat. To learn about when and why, we spoke to veterinarians, who also shared how to go about this act that might distress your kitty. Read on for their expert advice.

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Cats "bathe" themselves.

Cat grooming itself
Shutterstock/SJ Duran

You've probably noticed that your cat's tongue feels rough like sandpaper, and there's a good reason for this.

Mark Freeman, DVM, DABVP, and clinical assistant professor at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, explained to PetMD that "cats' tongues are covered with tiny barbs, called papillae [which] are all covered in a very strong keratin sheath."

The keratin makes the papillae very strong, allowing the tongue to help with hunting for food (in the wild), drinking water (since cats don't do this in the traditional way), and grooming themselves. When cats lick themselves, the papillae on their tongues not only smooths out their fur but removes any dirt.

Matthew McCarthy, DVM, founder of Juniper Valley Animal Hospital, tells Best Life that he refers to this as "tongue baths." He notes that, according to observational studies, the average cat spends approximately 15 percent of their day grooming—so it's safe to say they're getting pretty clean.

So don't bother with wipes.

pulling wet wipe from package
siam.pukkato / Shutterstock

Despite how often cats groom themselves, some owners might still feel it's not enough. Many pet parents will turn to cat wipes as a water-free alternative, but McCarthy says this also isn't necessary. "Cats keep themselves clean, and wiping them down with some product, many of which are scented, is more often done for us humans than for our kitties. Maybe we think they look dirty, have an odor, or we are just clean freaks." He also explains that this might just upset your cat and make them feel the need to groom themself even more.

However, there are a few instances when you might have no choice but to resort to the bathtub.

READ THIS NEXT: 4 Reasons Your Cat Is Peeing Outside the Litter Box, Vets Say.

Sometimes cats are TOO dirty to clean themselves.

A beautiful female cat (tortoiseshell-and-white cat) standing in the garden wearing a flea collar and looks to the side
S. Pech / Shutterstock

Indoor cats typically don't get dirty, so their normal cleaning routine is just fine. But cats that also go outside can certainly come in so muddy that their own grooming won't cut it. In these cases, a good first attempt is to use a damp towel to clean the dirt off, rather than submerging than in water. This will be less drying to their skin. However, if the grime is severe, a bath might be needed.

Or sometimes they can't reach their whole body.

Cats grooming each other

When cats get older, their mobility and flexibility can decrease, making it hard for them to reach certain spots on their body with their tongue, explains Simmi Jones, owner of the blog Cat Food Point. Likewise, obese cats might also find grooming difficult.

In these cases, "bathing may be a good option as long as it's no more frequently than every 4-6 weeks," according to Danny Jackson, co-founder, CEO, and chief editor of Pet Lover Guy. "Bathing cats can instigate a traumatic response and this often manifests itself through behavioral changes."

McCarthy also says that simply brushing your cat can be effective enough for hard-to-reach spots. And if you have more than one cat, they'll very often groom each other.

This is the one time you should draw a bath.

Close up of an orange cat being examined by a female vet wearing purple scrubs
santypan / Shutterstock

If your cat has picked up fleas, you may want to get them in the tub. "Bathing a cat will kill the fleas, as they will drown, it's the most effective way of getting rid of them," explains Jacquelyn Kennedy, CEO and founder of PetDT. But according to pet sitter website Rover, many topical flea treatments don't require a bath, so check with your vet first.

McCarthy also points out Ringworm as a skin condition that may necessitate a bath. In these cases, VCA Animal Hospitals explains that one treatment your vet could recommend is "a chlorhexidine + miconazole-based shampoo or a lime sulfur dip."

In both of these instances, McCarthy notes that vets will "recommend a specific shampoo and interval of bathing depending on the condition." So don't turn the water on until you've spoken to your veterinarian.

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Here's how to approach bath time.

A tabby cat in the bathtub.
Olleg / Shutterstock

For any of the instances explained above, if you decide a bath is necessary, be sure that you're going about it in the way that will make your cat, and you, the most comfortable.

First, trim their nails. Cats can get very upset when wet, which can trigger them to swat at or scratch you. Then, Kennedy advises cat owners to "make sure you're not submerging them entirely, and that you're not pouring water over their head (you can clean their head and faces with a damp cloth). Use cat-safe products and warm water. Make sure you have a nice warm fluffy towel waiting for them at the end!"

But Kennedy says to always remember that "giving them a bath can disrupt their natural cleanliness, and using certain products can even be harmful to their coat and health." It's always best to consult your vet before making any decisions.

Dana Schulz
Dana Schulz is the Deputy Lifestyle Editor at Best Life. She was previously the managing editor of 6sqft, where she oversaw all content related to real estate, apartment living, and the best local things to do. Read more
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